Liberian refugees return home in first airlift from Burkina Faso

A group of 53 refugees, including professional soccer players, artists and restaurant owners, returned home this week on the first UNHCR-organized voluntary repatriation of Liberians by air from Burkina Faso.

Some of the Liberian refugees who flew home by air from Burkina Faso.   © UNHCR/M.Kpaka

MONROVIA, Liberia, June 27 (UNHCR) - An eclectic group of 53 refugees, including students, tailors, professional soccer players, musicians, artists and restaurant owners, returned home this week on the first UNHCR-organised voluntary repatriation of Liberians by air from Burkina Faso.

The Liberians boarded an aircraft of the UN Mission in Liberia on Tuesday in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou and flew to Monrovia. The flight came days before the UN refugee agency ends its repatriation programme on Saturday. UNHCR has helped more than 100,000 people return home since October 2004.

The returnees, many of whom had been in exile since the start of the Liberian civil war in late 1989, were accompanied by UNHCR staff members and Liberian refugee officials. They will each receive a return package of food for four months and non-food items such as kitchen sets, buckets, mats and plastic sheeting.

The returnees will also get a transportation allowance to help them get home. They will be offered vocational training if needed, but many of the returnees have skills that they have used in exile and which could be helpful in rebuilding a country devastated by years of war and destruction.

Soccer player Fred Tally, like most of the other passengers on Tuesday's flight, made his way to Burkina Faso via a third country. He fled in 1997 to Côte d'Ivoire, where played for Guiglo before moving on to play football in a number of other countries. He said his ambition was to play for the Liberian national team.

After fleeing Liberia in 1993, musician Domini Baysah toured Africa with a group called "Knight of Zion" before studying construction in Nigeria. He was in Burkina Faso to find his younger brother and take him home to Liberia.

Hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees fled their country during the civil war, which ended in 2003. To date, a total 103,544 persons have returned home with UNHCR help and many more have made their own way back. UNHCR and its humanitarian partners are helping to provide the infrastructure, services and opportunities necessary for successful reintegration.

By Sarah F. Brownell in Monrovia, Liberia